One of my internet readers recently asked if I had an article on the "whole armor of God." Since I did not, I told her I would do one this month. The passage in question is Ephesians 6:11-18.
Since the baseball season has just drawn to a close, and I have been particularly interested this year, I would like to update the whole armor of God to correspond with items of a baseball catcher's equipment. For any international readers who may not be as familiar with baseball, most of the equipment is similar to a batsman in cricket. In baseball, the catcher's equipment is called "the tools of ignorance," presumably because you have to be crazy to crouch down and try to catch a ball thrown 90 miles per hour while someone is swinging a bat inches from your face. In the case of the armor of God, they are not the tools of ignorance but of wisdom.
Why Wear the Gear?
Paul tells us why we need to put on the armor in one word: stand (verse 13). This doesn't mean to stand up. Too often we tend to think that "Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus" means just to get on our feet. Instead we can stand while sitting or lying down. The meaning of standing here is rather to stand firm.
Perhaps the greatest example of what Paul meant when he said to stand came at the battle of the pass of Thermopylae. The king of Sparta and three hundred soldiers held the pass against a vastly superior Persian army. Even when betrayed by a Greek traitor, they fought to the last man. They stood firm against a seemingly unbeatable foe, true to their code of honor. Paul was no doubt aware of this event. He may have been thinking of it when he told the Ephesians to stand.
We are not fighting Persia, he seems to be saying. Instead we fight a much more powerful foe. The spiritual army of Satan has leaders in high places. The army is all around us. There are even traitors among our acquaintances who would betray us for the vain promises of their king. We must stand against sin like the Spartans stood against Xerxes. We must fight to our last breath.
Knowing this, we must be prepared to fight. That is why Paul tells us to wear the gear. We go out prepared, or we go out doomed to failure. David could not wear Saul's armor to fight Goliath. Had he relied on that armor he would have failed. Instead he wore the armor of God.
The Gear We Wear
Keeping in mind our stated purpose of withstanding, our armament is purely defensive. God doesn't call on us to conquer the spiritual powers of darkness; that is his job. He has a whole host of angels trained for that purpose. Our job, like the Spartans at Themopylae, is simply to hold off the enemy. For that we don't need slings and arrows, howitzers, or atomic bombs. We just need to protect ourselves.
The first item of gear a catcher puts on is never seen by the crowd at the ballpark. He "girds his loins" much as the Roman army wore a belt around their waist with armor covered leather plates hanging down. Likewise we are to wear a belt of truth (verse 14) to protect our most vulnerable part, our reputation. Perhaps Paul mentioned this first because it is one of the first areas where we can fail. In America in the twenty-first century we are seeing a serious diminishing of the truth. Reporters admit that they embellished or even fabricated stories to make themselves look good. Our politicians have such a reputation that it is a surprise when they actually tell the truth. Note that Paul did not say we are to be belted with "the truth." He is not talking here about wearing the gospel, although we surely must do that. He is talking about basic honesty. If we are to stand against the powers of Satan, we have to be reliable. God doesn't want a soldier who gives secrets to the enemy. He doesn't want a catcher who calls for an outside fast ball and sets up for an inside curve.
Why is truth so important as a foundational piece of equipment? Consider the enemy. "When [the devil] speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own; for he is a liar, and the father of it." Jn 8:44) If we don't start with truth, we have lost the battle because we are wearing the enemy's colors.
One of the important pieces of a catcher's gear is the chest protector. This has saved many a catcher from serious injury from a foul ball, hit straight back at high speed. This protects the heart and the other "vital" organs. We must wear this chest protector, and it is called "the breastplate of right action." (Verse 14) There are those who would say that right thinking is more important than doing right. Actually, both are equally important. Why is right action so important? Right action leads to or reinforces right thinking. When I was shipboard, we had fire drills every day. We had "general quarters" (battle stations) drills at least weekly. On my last ship it was my job, along with several others, to run these drills. Although the situations and locations sometimes differed, it was our job to ensure that everyone did everything the same way each time. The reason? So that they would not have to think when the real thing came along. Right action when it didn't mean life or death ensured right action when it did. That is why we wear the breastplate of right action. Sometimes the temptations come when we are not expecting them. If we are accustomed to doing the right thing, we won't have to think about what to do in the face of temptation.
Most softball catchers don't wear shin-guards. Hardball catchers always do. One of the best investments I have made in recent years was the purchase of some shin-guards. They have protected me from bouncing pitches and runners sliding in, spikes high, at home. Because I was prepared, I saved a lot of skin on my legs. Paul tells the Ephesians they need to wear shin-guards, too. The shin-guards he speaks of are the "preparedness that comes from the gospel of peace." (Verse 15) So, how does the good news of peace prepare us? Against what does it prepare us? Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." (Jn 14:27) With the peace that the Messiah gives us we are prepared when difficulties come. When we wear these shin-guards we face everything without fear or trouble. We are protected from worry, because we are prepared with the good news of peace.
One of the most distinctive pieces of a baseball catcher's equipment is his shield, commonly called a glove or mitt. The professional catcher knows that someone is shooting at him with a projectile moving at speeds from 85 to 105 miles per hour. Paul says we have to protect ourselves from projectiles as well. Instead of fastballs, though, they are fiery darts. To protect ourselves we wear a shield. It is bigger than a catcher's mitt. The word used here designates a large, four-cornered, oblong shield-the shield of faith (verse 16). With it we quench the fiery darts of the evil one. Without it we die; with it we continue to live. "The just shall live by his faith." (Hab 2:4; Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38) Our faith is a conviction that Jesus is the Son of God. It is also a trust that his blood takes away our sins and that his resurrection is a promise of our own new life.
A catcher's head is protected by his mask; a Christian's by the helmet of salvation (verse 17). What does salvation have to do with our head? Paul told Timothy, "from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation." (2 Tim 3:15) He also spoke about hearing "the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation." (Eph 1:13) Salvation has to do with our hearing and our wisdom. It is granted by God, but requires an act of will on our part. Salvation requires that we use our heads.
When I first started equating the armor of God to a catcher's gear I thought that the sword of the Spirit (verse 17) must correspond to the bat. After all, catchers are expected to be good hitters. Then I realized that the armor of God is purely defensive. Some have pointed out, I think erroneously, that the sword is the only offensive weapon of the armor. The Greek word used by Paul, however, is not the long sword of attack. It is a short sword or dagger used for protection. For that reason I equate it rather to the catcher's arm. A valuable defensive weapon on any baseball team is the catcher's ability to throw out base stealers. We have an enemy who is also in the job of stealing. He wants to steal souls, to rob us of our faith, to steal truth. In our defense we have the Spirit of God. Paul tells us that the Spirit (not the sword) is the word of God. That is our defensive weapon. The way to keep the devil from stealing is to know the word. It is easy for someone to lead the church astray if it is a church that uses their Bibles for doorstops or dustcatchers. Rather, we should be like the Bereans. "These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so." (Acts 17:11)
Finally, Paul says we should be praying. "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints." As we put on the gear, we must do it with prayer. If we put on the gear, we will no doubt pray.
Just as a professional catcher would never think of going out to play without the tools of ignorance, we must never face our battle without our tools of wisdom. Put on the whole armor. It might save you some pain.